How Bruce Springsteen Helped David Letterman Say His First Goodbye
Spanning three decades on one late-night television show or another, David Letterman has hosted thousands of musical guests. Some made a great impression, others didn’t and some made no impression whatsoever. Bruce Springsteen made a huge impression, and he helped the host close out his time with NBC with a bang back in 1993.
In the early ‘90s, when Johnny Carson announced he was ending his tenure on The Tonight Show, there were only two logical choices to take his place: Letterman or Jay Leno. As everyone knows, Leno got the gig, and Letterman decided to bail on the peacock rather than play second fiddle to the man he thought pulled the carpet out from underneath him.
The final episode of Late Night With David Letterman was set for June 25, 1993, with Tom Hanks slotted as a guest. In his 11 years at NBC, only one musical guest evaded Letterman's calls: Springsteen. With his final show all set to go, and after a good deal of pleading, the Boss finally agreed to perform.
Introduced by Letterman with a dry disclaimer -- “Better late than never” -- Springsteen strode out from the wings, shook hands with the Late Night band and launched into his Born in the U.S.A. hit “Glory Days.” At the time, Springsteen was in the middle of a solo tour that was booked at Madison Square Garden the next night. His performance with the house group started out a little shaky, but by the second chorus, Springsteen had loosened up.
The moment that got people talking the next day came about five minutes after Springsteen leaped on Paul Shaffer’s keyboard and went to town on his beat-up Fender Telecaster. Reportedly, Springsteen had asked Shaffer before the show whether the keyboard stand could withstand his weight, and tested it out a bit just to make sure it was cool. But to the audience watching the performance, it was an indelible moment and provided a sort of emotional release for an already emotional event.
As Letterman prepares to call it quits forever this week, the moment stands as one of the greatest musical moments in Letterman’s 33-year career.
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